Strawberries, spinach, and leafy greens once again topped a list of produce tainted by pesticides, according to an analysis from the Environmental Working Group.
The Dirty Dozen includes the 12 fruits and vegetables that retain the most pesticide contamination, even after they’re washed and peeled as consumers would prepare them. Updated every year as part of EWG’s Shopper’s Guide, which is based on tests by the USDA and the FDA. Almost 70% of the non-organic produce tested had detectable pesticide residue, usually at levels that fell within the legal limits in the US.
However, just because pesticides are legal does not mean that they are safe. More than a quarter of pesticide use in the US has been linked to chemicals that are illegal in Europe, according to a 2019 study. Those chemicals have been banned due to probable or proven health risks. Because the testers wash and prepare the produce samples before scanning for pesticides, these fruits and vegetables require more than an extra rinse to be rid of toxins. Strawberries and greens topped the Dirty Dozen again. The USDA and FDA do not repeat tests of produce every year, so not much has changed since last year’s Shopper’s Guide was published. For the seventh year in a row, strawberries were found to have the most pesticide contamination of any fruit or vegetable tested. Spinach came in second, followed by kale, collard greens, and mustard greens in third. The rest of the Dirty Dozen includes nectarines, apples, grapes, peppers (bell and hot), cherries, peaches, pears, celery, and tomatoes. The Peppers moved up a couple spots on the list, but aside from that, the standings are the same as last year. Whenever possible, the EWG recommends that people buy organic versions of Dirty Dozen produce, analyst Sydney Swanson said in a press release. Organic farming practices ban the use of most synthetic pesticides, so organic produce is less likely to be contaminated with known toxins. However, not everyone can afford organic produce or have an environmentally-conscious market nearby. If you can’t afford to buy cleaner versions of the Dirty Dozen, EWG experts say that the Clean Fifteen might be a better choice. Avocados, sweetcorn, and pineapple ruled the Clean Fifteen. The Clean Fifteen fruits and vegetables were found to have the lowest levels of pesticide residue of the bunch, with nearly 70 percent of the samples from the list found to be completely pesticide-free. The list includes avocados, sweet corn, and pineapple as the top three “cleanest” fruits and vegetables. Onions, papaya, and frozen sweet peas were next, followed by asparagus, honeydew melon, kiwi, and cabbage. Mushrooms, cantaloupe, mangoes, watermelon, and sweet potatoes also made the list of the least pesticide-contaminated produce. Since last year’s list, the EWG removed broccoli, cauliflower, and eggplant from the Clean Fifteen — not because of new contaminants, but because they hadn’t been tested in six or more years.